Coast Guard Exercise Raises Fears The Coast Guard was conducting routine practice on the Potomac River in Washington on Friday, not far from the Pentagon and the site of a ceremony commemorating the victims of Sept. 11, 2001. An erroneous report that the Coast Guard had fired 10 shots at "a suspicious vessel" briefly prompted fears and confusion.
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Coast Guard Exercise Raises Fears

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Coast Guard Exercise Raises Fears

Coast Guard Exercise Raises Fears

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

There was confusion and a spiraling chain of events here in Washington D.C. today, set off by a Coast Guard training mission on the Potomac River. Cable TV channels reported shots have been fired, but the Coast Guard says there was no gunfire and the whole thing was based on someone with a police scanner misinterpreting what he heard.

NPR's Brian Naylor explains what happened.

BRIAN NAYLOR: The Coast Guard says the training exercise involved four boats equipped with automatic weapons. They were acting out the stopping of a suspected criminal vessel. According to Coast Guard Chief of Staff Vice Admiral John Currier, as part of the training, the Coast Guard officers verbalize the sound of weapons firing, saying, bang, bang. That was apparently heard by someone with a radio scanner.

Vice Admiral JOHN CURRIER (Chief of Staff, U.S. Coast Guard): That bang, bang was verbalized on the radio, but I want to reemphasize that no shots were fired, no weapons were trained, no ammunition was loaded. This was strictly on the radio, a verbalization.

NAYLOR: That verbalization led to media reports, including on CNN, that 10 shots had been fired on a boat in the Potomac. Coming as it did moments after President Obama took part in a Pentagon ceremony marking September 11th. This caused scrambling among law enforcement and the news media. The FBI sent agents to the river bank. And controllers at nearby Regan Washington National Airport put a hold on outbound flights for a 22-minute period. Federal and local law enforcement had not been notified of the exercise because Admiral Currier said it was so routine.

Vice Admiral CURRIER: This was a routine, low profile normal training exercise that happened to - the radio intercept generated intense media coverage and interest, justifiably so, but I think what happened was we saw this spiral up.

NAYLOR: Currier and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, whose agency oversees the Coast Guard, promised an investigation. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said he didn't want to second guess law enforcement officials as to the appropriateness of conducting a training exercise on September 11th. But Gibbs criticized CNN for failing to check out its report. CNN issued a statement saying it would've been irresponsible for it not to report what it was hearing and seeing.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.

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